Ten of the UK’s leading retail centres have provided £600,000 in funding for Project Pegasus, aimed at developing technology to scan the faces of the alleged perpetrators of the wave of looting that they continuously practice in retail stores.
In this context, police chiefs have been increasingly criticised for the apparent lack of action to deal with the so-called looting epidemic sweeping retail distribution. The chairman of the trade association Asda believed that this type of robbery had been decriminalised and now they were suffering the consequences.
Retail giants such as John Lewis, Co-op, Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Waitrose and Next had taken steps to find some temporary solution; even Co-op resorted to hiring undercover security guards to protect stores and workers, while Tesco installed body cameras on store staff to help stop those assaulting workers. Other shopkeepers had even considered going out of business, as they counted more losses in theft than profits through retail sales.
What did become widespread was the display of items under lock and key. It started with products such as wines and spirits before extending to other items such as meat, cheeses, razor blades and jars of honey. Above all, the aim is to deal with what are considered to be thefts by organised crime networks that then resell the products.
According to the National Statistics Office, this year the number of shoplifting offences nationwide increased by a 25%. In the last twelve months up to March, police counted 339,206 cases of theft, despite the British Retail Consortium’s estimate of eight million offences, which would have cost retailers nearly £1 billion a year.
Of all these recorded thefts, the police only investigated 48,218 incidents of shoplifting reported to them. This figure would only constitute 14% of the total, while 183,450 investigations, or 54% of the total, were closed without identifying any suspects, thus fuelling claims from the shopkeeping industry that law enforcement was not taking these crimes seriously enough.
From now on, the police will be able to publish CCTV images of suspected offenders through national databases, which include the latest technology in the field of facial recognition.
Since Project Pegasus was launched, it has been felt that police chiefs will have more tools with which to take action and will be able to build up a national picture of where the gangs that commit these robberies operate and the stores they target.
In this regard, Sussex Police and Crime Commissioner Katy Bourne, who is also a national leader in commercial crime, believes that they will soon curb the phenomenon, considering that 20% of offenders account for more than 80% of crimes committed.
However, one retail industry leader claimed that, across the UK, the number of crimes, thefts and anti-social behaviour had soared by 35% year-on-year, with more than 175,000 incidents recorded in the first six months of 2023. Given these data, stopping this phenomenon immediately is considered difficult.
Just in case, some shopkeepers continue to sharpen their wits to avoid further losses, and have thus popularised the technique of fake packaging, where they display boxes of products that are actually empty.